Homemade bear crossing sign will have to come down, county says

What appears to be a well-meaning attempt to prevent cars from hitting bears has backfired.

A sign that went up on an Horry County road to warn drivers about bears won't stay up for long.

From a distance, the bear crossing sign on East Cox Ferry Road looks official, but get a bit closer and the stencilled lettering and not-quite-professional art work becomes more apparent.

There's also a hand-written note in one corner of the sign: "Dedicated to mother and cub hit and killed 2012 by auto."

That's when it becomes obvious the sign was homemade.

Who made it and why did they put it up? No one at the county seems to know.

But after WPDE NewsChannel 15 asked them about it, county officials said the sign will have to come down.

"There are procedures when a sign is installed. That particular sign did not come to the county for an encroachment permit and did not receive an encroachment permit," said Horry County public information officer Lisa Bourcier.

There's another mystery: if the accident happened two years ago, why did the sign go up now?

Wildlife biologist Deanna Ruth says it's not like there's been an unusual number of bear deaths recently.

Ruth, who used to work for the SC Department of Natural Resources, says there was a rash of car-bear accidents in 2008, on Highways 22 and 90 in Horry County.

At the time, Ruth says DNR considered asking for bear crossing signs, but then the accidents tapered off, so they didn't pursue it.

Ruth says after this year's wet spring, it should be easy for bears to find food and they won't move around much. She doesn't expect many car-bear accidents this year.

So the bear crossing sign on East Cox Ferry Road may be unnecessary. In any event, it will soon be gone.

"Now that we are aware of the sign and it is not permitted properly, that sign will have to be removed by public works," said Bourcier.

Bourcier says it's not that the county doesn't care about bears. She says anyone who believes there's a problem with car-bear accidents, should make their case and if county officials agree, the county will pay for a sign.

DNR says 18 bears were killed by vehicles in South Carolina coastal counties in 2011, the most recent year statistics are available.